Thursday, June 25, 2015

Climate Central: Nuclear Yes? Nuclear No? So Confusing!

Climate Central notices that nuclear energy technology is not standing still. The writer, Bobby McGill, makes it clear that nuclear “isn’t likely to grow much in the United States” and that the “the EIA [Energy Information Agency] has forecast flat nuclear power (through 2040).*” So that’s that –or is it?

The $60 million the Department of Energy is dedicating to nuclear research will go to more than 40 different projects at universities across the U.S. focusing on nuclear energy modeling, nuclear security and safety and new reactor concepts and fuels.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, speaking Monday at the Energy Information Administration’s annual energy conference in Washington, said he is bullish on nuclear power as a clean energy source. However, the high costs of developing nuclear energy have to come down, he said.

Fair enough, I guess. Other accounts of Moniz’s keynote suggest he talked mostly about the U.S.Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the need to release barrels from it judicially. But if he made a few vagrant comments about nuclear, too, that’s good.

But what about these DOE projects?

MIT atmospheric scientist and nuclear power supporter Kerry Emanuel said the Department of Energy’s research grants seem small, but the climate will benefit if they aid in developing a new nuclear power program with new-generation reactors that could burn toxic waste from obsolete nuclear plants as fuel.

“What this country needs is a renaissance of fission-based power,” Emanuel said. “I really hope that we start paying attention to the climate problem and we get on board with nuclear as one of a suite of technical solutions that will help us deal with the risk.”

One definitely is left to think that nuclear energy is just short of sinking into the mire, though McGill does allow Emanuel to get a little closer to the actual state of play. It is sort of fun to imagine the nuclear doubtful looking at the current situation and thinking, Well, nuclear is dead – isn’t it? – climate change – might be something to have a potent emission free energy source – but nuclear? –maybe?

We’ll take the maybe if that’s what it is. It may be halfway to no, but it’s also halfway to yes, and that’s the direction in which “maybe” is trending. DOE certainly thinks so.


How much does DOE think so? Here are comments made by Moniz in April before handing out DOE scholarships for students going into nuclear engineering:

“The awards announced today will directly help support the future of the nuclear energy research workforce, as we continue to grow the U.S. clean energy economy,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “By helping promote cutting-edge nuclear science and engineering, the Department is helping to advance American leadership in the safe, secure and efficient use of nuclear energy here and around the world.

Doesn’t seem very conflicted, does he?


We’ll look more closely at the technologies DOE is engaged with in a future post. Climate Central does not get too much into it, boggled as it is that anyone is doing anything about nuclear energy.


*EIA does a forecast every year to survey the energy scene as it stands currently and projects that forward. It changes every year to reflect policy and industry changes, so looking at one year’s forecast and saying, “Well, that’s it, that’s the future” is beyond what EIA intends and, when used as an argument for or against something as it is by Climate Central against nuclear, is not really – fully – a fair rendering of the report. It’s less Nostradamus than it is a Polaroid.

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